Thursday, January 31, 2008

Discount Special with the Oregon Symphony

The Oregon Symphony has announced that starting on Friday, Feb. 1 until Feb 8, you can purchase tickets at $20 or $50 depending on the location for most remaining Classical, Pops and Inside the Score concerts.

This ticket discount applies to the following concerts:

• Feb 2, 3, 4: Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 2 (classical)
• Feb 10: The Classical Symphony (Inside the Score)
• Feb 16, 17, 18: Liszt Piano Concerto No. 2 (classical)
• Feb 23, 24, 25: Bela Fleck & the Flecktones (Pops)
• Mar 2: Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony (Inside the Score)
• Mar 8, 9, 10: Tchaikovsky’s Fourth (classical)
• Mar 15, 16, 17: Women in Blues (Pops)
• Mar 29, 30, 31: Classical Elegance (classical)
• April 12, 13, 14: Mozart Clarinet Concerto (classical)
• Apr 19, 20, 21: A Sentimental Journey with Norman Leyden (Pops)
• Apr 26, 27, 28: Mahler Symphony No. 9 (classical)
• May 4: Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony (Inside the Score)
• May 17, 18, 19: Carmina Burana (classical)

The $20 and $50 tickets are available at the Oregon Symphony Ticket Office, 923 SW Washington St. in downtown Portland, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday.

Tickets may also be purchased by phone at (503) 228-1353 or (800) 228-7343 during the same hours, or online at any time from the orchestra’s web site, www.orsymphony.org. Tickets may also be purchased through Ticketmaster.

Oregon Symphony cellist wins position with Boston Symphony

Charles Noble has the scoop on OSO and FearNoMusic cellist, Adam Ebensen, winning a position with the Boston Symphony. Congratulations to Ebensen! Not only will he be playing with a world-famous orchestra, but he will get a major boost in pay. I think that the starting salary with the Boston Symphony is something like $105,000 a year.

On a more somber note, Seattle Symphony's principal cellist, Josh Roman, is leaving the SSO to pursue an independent career. You can read about it in Classical in Seattle or catch this article in The Seattle Times.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Oregon Symphony numbers are going up!

The Oregon Symphony has released wonderful news that the attendance figures and ticket sales are way up so far this season. We're talking an increase of 20.5% with an average paid attendance has been 1,662, which is 283 people per concert more than last season at the same time. This has translated into total ticket sales of over $5 million so far this season and it represents an increase of more than $461,000 in ticket sales when compared to the same time last season.

Anyone who has attended concerts the past few seasons knows that the orchestra is playing better than ever. Even composers such as Robert Kyr have stated how impressed they are. (See this report in my blog on May 29th, 2007.) I hope that this upward trend continues, because Kalmar and the orchestra have earned it. Even when the attendance has been down, the musicians give it their all. Kudos also to Gregory Vajda, who is doing a stellar job as resident conductor.

Make it a SuperBach Sunday!


Portland’s Bach Cantata Choir will present a concert this Sunday afternoon (2 pm) at Rose City Park Presbyterian Church (NE 44th and Sandy). The program consists of Christoph Graupner’s Oboe d’amore Concerto and J. S. Bach’s Cantatas 19 and 41. Ralph Nelson will conduct the concert, and the oboe concerto features Paul Pitkin as the soloist.

Bach’s Cantata 19 is “Es erhub sich ein Streit” (“A battle arose”) and is based on the story of war in heaven in Revelation.

Canata 41 is “Jesu, nun sei gepreiset” (“Jesu, now let us praise Thee”) and is considered one of the most difficult of Bach’s cantatas.

In the Bach Cantata Choir’s newsletter (called “Bach Beat”), Pitkin writes this about the oboe d’amore:

The oboe d’amore was invented in the 18th century, and the Bach cantatas showcase the instrument at the apex of its popularity. Interestingly enough, the first composer to write specifically for the instrument was Christoph Graupner, whose Concerto for Oboe d’Amore will be heard in the BCC’s next concert. In terms of performance, the oboe d’amore is probably the most difficult instrument to play in a family of difficult instruments. This is due in large part to the fact that it has an unstable pitch and a scale that is very out of tune with itself, requiring a great ear and extreme flexibility of embouchure (use of facial muscles and lip placement) on the part of the performer.
Its darker, warmer tone is used to great effect in the cantatas, and you’ll most often find it paired with solo alto; the lush sound of both alto and oboe d’amore work beautifully together. This instrument gradually fell out of favor with the advent of the clarinet, which has a larger range and is much easier to play. Very little music has been composed for the oboe d’amore since the end of the Baroque. The most notable examples are to be found in Ravel’s “Bolero,” Richard Strauss’ “Sinfonia Domestica” and Mahler’s “Ruckert-Lieder.”

There is no admission charge for the concert, but donations will be accepted.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Gentleman, grow your beards!


Peter Schickele, aka PDQ Bach, is coming to our fair city as the very special guest of Portland Symphonic Choir for its concert on March 12th. The program includes "Oedipus Tex" and "The Seasonings" and a Schickele look-alike-contest. So let your stubble grow and don't forget to get a ticket via the PSC web site.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Classical in Seattle summarizes the Seattle Symphony situation

Classical in Seattle gathers all of the latest chatter about the Seattle Symphony, including recent comments by Alex Ross (who was in Seattle for a symposium on new music).

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Case against Schwarz and the Seattle Symphony dismissed

You can read about it here in the Seattle P-I.

Latest scribblings...

I wrote a piece about Bravo! Vancouver's next concert (this Sunday afternoon) in The Columbian.

Seen and Heard International has posted my review of last weekend's terrific Oregon Symphony concert.

Henry Fogel in his blog has posted a listing of programs for the Berlin Philharmonic from a tour they did in 1951. Almost every day they played a demanding concert (one time they gave two concerts in a day). Wow!

Friday, January 25, 2008

Review: Ian Bostridge wows Portland

Probably the most difficult thing any singer can do is to perform two hours of German lieder and win over the audience to your viewpoint. You only have your voice and a pianist at your disposal. The poetry you must convey is often of a melancholy nature, and German can sound harsh when it’s done wrongly. But when an artist of the caliber of Ian Bostridge, gets a hold of such songs like he did on Thursday in an evening of Schubert lieder, then the effect goes beyond the beyonds.

Sponsored by the Friends of Chamber Music, this concert took place at Kaul Auditorium and about 500 people (many in the choral and opera community) were present. After the tall and lanky Bostridge took the stage with pianist Julius Drake, they immediately drew us into a pensive world view in which birds, brooks, blossoms, and the air itself has a surface meaning and an underlying meaning. The poetry often told us how wonderful life is and lament that it is far too short.

Bostridge has a terrific array of idiosyncratic postures, which some might find affected or off-putting. He might sing to the piano for a while and then suddenly turn to the audience to finish the phrase. He might strike a debonair pose as if he going to pull out a pack of cigarettes or he might cock his head and sing out the side of his mouth. Well, he could stand on his head and sing that way if he liked, because the beauty of his tone was absolutely perfect for these songs. He could alter the volume at will, change the emotion drastically, change the emphasis of the story, break the pace of the song. It didn’t matter because the tone was always beautiful. Bostridge also avoided over pronouncing the German. The consonants didn't splatter all over the place or sound forced.

I thought that the most stunning performance was “Sei mir gegrüsst” (Schubert’s setting of a poem by Friedrich Rückert). Each stanza has a phrase that repeats at the end, and Bostridge could make it sound like a plaintive echo, fading into the stillness of time. It was unforgettable.

Drake’s playing was equally superb. He added texture to every piece. He never overstated his case or understated it. His playing was perfectly suited to Bostridge’s voice.

At the end of the concert, and a standing ovatio, Bostridge sang two encores. The first was “Röslein auf der Heiden,” and the second was another Schubert lied. Both were done impeccably.

Although the concert was well attended, I think that it would’ve sold out if it had not taken place on a Thursday night. Most church choirs in Portland rehearse on Thursday evening. Of course, there are restrictions with available nights for Bostridge (I understand that he left Portland early on Friday morning), and there are restrictions on the availability of Kaul Auditorium (Chamber Music Northwest has it booked for Friday and Saturday evenings). There’s only so much that the staff at the Friends of Chamber Music can do. Let’s hope that they bring Bostridge back again!

Matt Haimovitz plays Schumann Cello Concerto with PSU Symphony


The Portland State University Orchestra moves downtown to present its winter concert at the Newmark Theater. Besides the Schumann Cello Concerto, the program includes the U.S. premiere of Wolfgang Rihm's "Ricercare in memoriam Luigi Nono," the U.S. premiere of Bryan Johanson's "Quick as a Wink," and Johannes Brahms' Double Concerto with violinist Andy Simionescu and cellist Matt Haimovitz.

Entitled "Juxtapositions" this concert continues the vision of conductor (and professor) Ken Selden, who programs a mixture of contemporary music and beloved works. Last year was Selden's first with the PSU Symphony, and his fearless leadership into new repertoire caused the PSU Symphony to win First Prize in Adventurous Programming from ASCAP and the American Symphony Orchestra League (beating out the nation's music conservatories and top-rated music schools).

Haimovitz is known for his performances around town in unorthodox places like coffee shops, outdoor music festivals, and clubs. But he has had an international career since he first soloed at the ripe age of 13 with Zubin Mehta and the Israel Philharmonic. Since then, Haimovitz has performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Berlin Philharmonic, the New York Philharmonic, the English Chamber Orchestra, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and the Cleveland Orchestra among others.

The concert starts at 8 pm on Saturday. Don't miss it!

Tickets prices are $15 for adults; $10 for seniors; $8 for students; and PSU faculty, staff and students are admitted free with PSU ID. Tickets are available at the PSU Box Office (1825 SW Broadway), by calling 503-725-3307 or at Antoinette Hatfield Hall (1111 SW Broadway).

You can find more about the PSU Symphony on MySpace.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Chamber music concerts at the Washington State Governor’s Mansion

Since 1989, the Governor’s mansion in Olympia has been the focal point of the Governor’s Chamber Music Festival. This is a chamber music series that offers three chamber music concerts every year at several venues, one of which is the Governor’s mansion.

Judith Cohen, an award-winning pianist from Seattle, Washington, is the director of the Governor’s Chamber Music Festival, which is a non-profit group with a small budget of around $15,000.

“We do our own fundraising, get donations, and apply for grants,” says Cohen. “Because it is state property, we can’t take money at the door. We have an invitation list and get the money beforehand. The concerts can’t have the appearance of collecting money for the state.”

The Washington State Governor’s mansion is not a ceremonial home. Governor Gregoire does live there and does attend the concerts unless she is out of town. According to Cohen each performance draws an audience of 125 people.

There’s a concert coming up this Monday evening (January 28th) at the Governor’s mansion. The concert features Judith Cohen, an award-winning professional pianist from Seattle and Jackson Berkey (the keyboard artist with Mannheim Steamroller). They are playing the Northwest premiere of Berkey’s piece for two pianos and wind chimes.

“It’s a fun piece,” remarks Cohen “There’s a lot of piano sonority in the piece. The wind chimes bring some meditative and reflective quality into the piece, which is about 20 minutes long.”

They will also perform Berkey’s Elegy for Cello and Piano with Seattle Symphony cellist and Kronos Quartet founder Walter Grey.

“Jackson Berkey has a second home on the Olympic Peninsula,” notes Cohen. “He went to Julliard and is a trained pianist. I met Jackson because my youngest stepdaughter was in the Seattle Girlschoir and one of his kids one in it also. He wrote some stunning pieces for that group. He found out that I am a pianist, and we’ve kept in touch. I’m really looking forward to the concert.”

Maybe this is a concert series that should be done in Oregon as well! Mahonia Hall in Salem has a ballroom on the third floor and a pipe organ. It would be great to get our best musicians in Govenor Kulongoski home. Politics and Music!

Monday, January 28th, 2008, 6-8 PM,Governor's Mansion, Olympia, Washington. Music of Jackson Berkey. For more information, call 206-281-8292.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Have keyboard, will travel: Review of the Valentina Lisitsa piano recital

Valentina Lisitsa again arrived in Portland on short notice to rescue a concert series. Last September, Lisitsa replaced an ailing Horacio Gutierrez in Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto in the Oregon Symphony season opener. This time, the Ukrainian-born, Miami-based artist filled in for the young phenom Rachel Cheung, whose parents apparently didn’t want to jump through all of the hoops required in order to get their daughter an artist’s visa.

Lisitsa’s appearance was the second concert in a series sponsored by Portland Piano International, and her performance on Monday evening at the Newmark Theatre didn’t disappoint those who love the Romantic repertoire. Lisitsa opened the program with a gripping interpretation of Rachmaninoff’s “Études-Tableaux,” Op. 39, No 6, in A minor. Her fingers flew up and down the keyboard in every imaginable direction, and she made the virtuosic passages look effortless. Her style was nearly the same as she shows in her youtube video, so you can see for yourself.

More Rachmaninoff followed. From his 13 Preludes, Op. 32, we heard the No. 12 in G-sharp minor, No. 5 in G major, and No 10 in B minor. Lisitsa gave each prelude its own flavor. With No. 12, she created a dreamy, impressionistic mood that drifted with the clouds. No. 5 continued in the same manner but ended magically. No. 10 had a somber and thoughtful attitude that seemed to hint at a Russian hymn.

Lisitsa rounded out the Rachmaninoff set with the Prelude No. 5 in G minor from his 10 Preludes, Op. 23. I think that Lisitsa could have slowed down a bit during the middle section. She seemed to hurry it along a bit too much. Still, by the end of the piece, she won everyone over to her interpretation, which was rich and melodic.

The first half of the program ended with Beethoven’s Sonata in F min, Op. 57 (“Appassionata”). I loved Lisitsa’s opening statement in the first movement, because she varied the dynamics and tempi very well. She continued to show a fine understanding of nuances in the second movement, but her playing of the third movement started out somewhat rushed. Somehow she relaxed the pace enough to gather us into the whirlwind that marked the end of this piece. Wild applause from the audience erupted from all over the hall.

The second half of the program began with Schumann’s “Kinderszenen” (“Scenes of Childhood”), Op. 15. Lisitsa brought each scene to us lovingly and with complete understanding of every nuance. Her performance was impeccable, full of wonderful feeling, and went straight to the heart. I cannot image a better interpretation.

Next, Lisitsa played Thalberg’s Fantasy on “The Barber of Seville,” Op 63. This piece was garnished with so much ornamentation that I could barely make out a few of the melodies from Rossini’s famous opera. After reading the program notes, I found out that that was the point. Lisitsa made this piece look a lot easier than it is, yet I wish that Thalberg had brought some of Rossini’s themes to the forefront.

The final piece on the printed program was Liszt’s “Totentaz” (“Dance of Death”). Lisitsa had this virtuosic piece nailed – from the demonstrative beginning to the final burnout at the end. Lisitsa exhibited remarkable control, and the numerous glissandi looked brutal, but she played it all with gusto.

After a thunderous ovation by the audience, Lisitsa returned to the piano, a huge Bösendorfer grand, to play five encores. She didn’t announce them from the stage, but all of them were tough pieces and the last one was a Liszt knucklecruncher. Lisitsa played each one impeccably and with great feeling. With each piece she seemed to become more and more energized, and I think that she might have continued playing until midnight, but, alas, the audience was ready to go home.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Review: Oregon Symphony performs MacMillan and Mendelssohn

In 1662 Isobel Gowdie was accused of witchcraft and killed by the authorities after she had confessed to all sorts of incredible assignations with the devil and stated that she could fly, turn herself into a rabbit, and had killed a ploughman with elf-arrows the devil gave her. Witch trials in Scotland during this time caused the deaths of some 4,500 people and remain a black mark in the history of that country. The discovery of this dark period inspired James MacMillan to write “The Confession of Isobel Gowdie,” a symphonic piece that unearths the tragedy of Gowdie’s death and provides a requiem in her memory and the memory of others who died under similar circumstances.

The Oregon Symphony under the direction of Carlos Kalmar, unleashed the entire spectrum of MacMillan’s work. The piece starts very calmly, starting with the woodwinds and gradually spreading to the strings. It was difficult to detect the liturgical chants and church-like music that are woven into this opening passage, but the music did seem to look back into the misty past. The next theme emerged with a myriad of glissandi from all sections of the orchestra, with the cello section getting the most opportunities. Then came an extended crescendo that ended sharply and an intricate mesh of sound that was punctuated by the percussion. This was followed by thirteen (or more) incredibly piercing attacks, like the lashing of a whip, which could make the sweat break out on your forehead. Then a ruthless thread of sound – led by the trombone section – erupted. Finally, an overall cacophony slowly guided us to still waters with the strings ascending higher and higher – perhaps to depict the soul of Gowdie entering heaven.

Overall, the performance of “The Confession of Isobel Gowdie” was riveting, and its subject matter makes me reflect on my own government, which has advocated the use of torture at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp and excused the excesses at Abu Ghraib. Will 300 years pass before a composer writes a work that depicts water boarding and other atrocities?

After intermission, the orchestra performed Mendelssohn’s Incidental Music to Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” With actors, soloists, and women’s choir, this concert drama created a full-meal deal to the delight of an audience in need of a lighter, fairy-tale story about witches and otherworldly things.

The orchestra and forces didn’t disappoint, delivering an enchanting and thoroughly engaging performance of this gem (which was its long-overdue, first-time performance by the orchestra). Actor Ted deChatelet marvelously alternated his voice to convey the mischievous Puck and stately Oberon. Maureen Porter was equally effective in her role as Titania, queen of the fairies. Sopranos Sharin Apostolou and Amy Jo Arrington sang beautifully, as did the women of the Portland Symphonic Choir. The strings were impeccable. The brass played with sensitivity, and principal flutist David Buck again displayed remarkable breath control, playing extended, exposed passages that flowed like a clear stream.

Attendance was down on Sunday night with too many empty seats for such an excellent program. Was this because of Martin Luther King weekend or did folks have problems prying themselves away from the Packers-Giants game. You’d think that Portland’s wicca followers would make a showing or that perhaps Shakespeare lovers, many of whom make yearly treks to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland would’ve been more curious about this show, but alas that was not to be.

PS: My review of last week's Oregon Symphony concert is now posted on Seen and Heard International.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Updates on scribbling and Northwest Reverb stats

I've published an article in winter issue of MUSO magazine on some of the best vocal training programs in the US and Canada. I was able to get in a plugs for Portland State University's opera program with a quote from head honcho Christine Meadows and for my alma mater Pacific Lutheran University.

Also, for the past week or so, Northwest Reverb has crossed the 1,000 visits per month threshold. And the latest analysis states that it's at an all-time high with 1,137 visits from 633 different visitors (in the jargon "absolutely unique visitors) over the last 31 days.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Talking with Carlos Kalmar about the upcoming Oregon Symphony concerts and more


On Tuesday afternoon, I chatted with Oregon Symphony's music director Carlos Kalmar about his recent work in The Hague, Netherlands and about Oregon Symphony’s classical music concerts through the end of the season.

How did things go with the Residente Orkestre in The Hauge?

Kalmar: Everything went very well. That was my second time with the Residente Orkester. The first encounter two years ago was difficult. I went in there being my usual self, which means start rehearsing right away. They didn’t want to do that. They wanted to settle down a little bit and be themselves and feel the music. That was fine. But the real problem arose when I decided to fire my soloist. It was an unusual thing. Only the second time in 21 years of doing this business. But that was two years ago. I'm happy that they invited me back and the concerts with the Shostakovich 5 went really well.

What out-of-town gigs do you have coming up?

Kalmar: I’ll be returning to Dublin to direct the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra on the 25th of this month. We'll be doing the Szymanowski Violin Concerto No. 1, Bartók's Dance Suite, and Dvorák Symphony No. 8. Then I travel to Lahti, Finland to conduct the Lahti Symphony Orchestra. That was Osmo Vänskä’s orchestra. We'll perform the entire Romeo and Juliet symphony by Berlioz in Lahti. That will be fun.

This weekend you'll be conducting the Oregon Symphony in a concert of Mendelssohn" "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and MacMillan's "The Confessions of Isobel Gowdie." That's an interesting combo.

Kalmar: James MacMillan is a contemporary Scottish composer, about my age. Isobel Gowdie was an average woman from about 1640 in Scotland. MacMillan is a very Catholic person and a proud Scotsman. He studied Scottish history and found this very dark spot – which happened all over Europe – people were burnt to death because they were accused of being a witch. Isobel Gowdie was tortured and confessed to all sort of things: that she could fly, that she had met the devil. So she was strangled at the stake and burnt to death.

MacMillan wrote this piece to commemorate that tragedy. It’s kind of a requiem. The musical language at the beginning is modern, but you can hear the links to ancient history, ancient church songs, etc. This is not program music, but when it comes to torture and killing, the music becomes very intense, screaming, and quite in your face. After she is dead, there is a sense of reconciliation. MacMillian refers to the 4,000 who were killed in Scotland during this time under similar circumstances.

We want to link this piece with Mendelssohn’s "A Midsommer Night’s Dream," which looks at fairies and the supernatural from a completely different angle. Because this music is pleasant, funny, and very lyrical. We’ve got the choir part, the actors, and we do some of some of the Shakespeare play. It will be a great way to lift your spirits.

As a side note -- Mendelssohn wrote the overture when he was 17 years old and the rest of it later. That's amazing!

In early February Gregory Vajda will conduct Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 2 with Kirill Gerstein.

Kalmar: Kirill Gerstein was here two years ago and did the Ravel G major Piano Concerto with us and Gershwin’s "Rhapsody in Blue" and both pieces were unbelievable! He is Russian and has a degree in piano and in jazz playing. You can real feel that he knows how to do jazz. I think that for Kirill you can give him anything. He’s that great! Gregory will do well with John Adams' "Chamber Symphony" and Schumann's 4th Symphony. A great program.

In the middle of February, you return to conduct two pieces by Liszt, including his second piano concerto with guest pianist Arnaldo Cohen.

Kalmar: Cohen is a wonderful Brazilian artist with whom I’ve already worked, so I'm looking forward to bring him here. Also on the program is Liszt’s "Les Préludes,” an excellent ballet piece. "Les Préludes" is one of Liszt’s best pieces but at the centerpiece of the music there’s a great majestic and brassy section. The music has nothing to do with military things, but the Nazi’s used it as a signature tune for their special radio announcements. So the piece wasn’t played in German-speaking countries for 40 years after the WWII ended because of the memories. So, the good news is that we in America can appreciate this music for what it is.

This is my first time to do “Fanfare for the Common Man” as a separate piece. I've conducted it several times because it's in the fourth movement of Copland's Third Symphony. Also on this progrma is Bizet’s "Symphony in C," which is a cute, little thing. And Barber’s "Sourvenirs" is to die for – a very intelligent piece of music.

On March 8 through the 10th Finland is coming to Portland in the form of a conductor and a soloist with the orchestra.

Kalmar: Yes, Pietari Inkinen will conduct and the concert will feature Pekka Kuusisto, who is probably the leading young Finish violin soloist, playing Stravinsky's "Violin Concerto." Pekka's brother is the concertmaster of the Lahti Symphony and a very fine player too. This is a well suited concert. The Stravinsky piece requires a really intelligent musician who can pull it off and get the audience to understand it. Pekka will do that. And the Tchaikovsky 4th is also on the program. With that piece you can’t go wrong. It's great music that is beloved by audiences everywhere.

We've got another guest conductor coming to direct the orchestra in late March.

Kalmar: Juanjo Mena is a young Spanish conductor. He must be in his 30s. He is one of the more upcoming conductors I saw him in Spain a couple of years ago and was impressed. He also works with the Baltimore Symphony. So, I’m happy that we can present a concert that is wide-ranging. We’ve paired the well-known Beethoven Sympohny No. 2 and Wagner's Overture to "Tannhäuser" with two lesser-know works: Johann Christian Bach’s Symphony and Martinu’s "The Frescoes of Piero della Francesca," which will be played here for the first time. Martinu’s piece is a great piece of music.

You are back in town to conduct in the middle of April a concert of Bartók and Strauss, and the Mozart Clarinet Concerto with Sharon Kam.

Kalmar: I’ve worked a couple of times with Sharon Kam in Vienna and Dessau. Sharon is one of the top clarinetists in the world. This will be exciting, and the Mozart Clarinet Concerto has been done here in a while.

I’m excited to do Bartók's "Music for Strings, Percussion and Celeste." It’s very important piece of 20th Century music that any really good orchestra has to play. This again may be the first time that this piece has been done in Portland.

Then comes the Mahler 9 on April 26, 27, and 28.

Kalmar: Mahler 9 - that’s no big deal! A tiny symphony! (Laughs) Maybe an hour and a quarter in length. We decided not to pair it with anything else is because it is such a substantial work. We all know that Mahler pieces have more too it, background, irony, sadness, desperation, some humorous things. It’s a great piece, but it is challenging in the most positive way. It’s long and you have to pay attention. If you look at the length of Mahler’s first symphony – around 51 minutes – with the 9th and all of the things he is trying to say at the end of his life, then you know how incredible this work is.

Alright! I'm going to be ready to hear it at least twice. I don't know that it's ever been done by the Oregon Symphony before. And this is just whetting my appetite, because I’m waiting for you to do a Bruckner.

Kalmar: You won’t have to wait long.

Yay! (Fireworks explode inside my head.) Wow I’m psyched!

The final concert of the season offers Messiaen's "The Ascension" ("L'Ascension") and Carmina Burana with the Portland Symphonic Choir, the Pacific Youth Choir, and soloists.

Kalmar: We are so proud to contrast the earthy and the ethereal. The Carmina Burana has lots of drinking, lots of love. We all like that. Messiaen's “L’Ascension" is very religious and heavenly.
“L’Ascension" is 20 minutes long and requires a very good orchestra with strong players. The first and last movements are very slow, the players must have the ability to breathe through the music, breathe through the rests, and build this cathedral of sound. A huge difference with the Carmina which involves rhythm, fun, and some weird moments like the high, high tenor in the roasted swan piece.

Let's not forget the remaining concerts in the Inside the Score series. Gregory Vajda will be giving you the inside picture on several great works. He'll talk about two classical symphonys - one by Haydn and the other by Prokofiev, which looks by at the Haydn. That's on February 10th. Then Gregory will talk about Shostakovitch's Fifth Symphony and all the complexity with Stalin's government. That takes place on March 2nd. And Gregory winds up with Beethoven's Seventh Symphony on May 4th. That's a great series and you get a lot of useful information about music, people, and history.

Thanks Carlos!

Kalmar: My pleasure!

Baltimore Symphony ends year in the black

The Baltimore Symphony was able to changing course and post a balanced budget for the first time in five years, according to this article in the Baltimore Sun. Credit goes to some fortuitous planning by the BSO organization, which is led by President Paul Meecham, who used to be the executive director of the Seattle Symphony. Meecham lasted two years in Seattle before running into problems with maestro Gerard Schwarz. Meecham took over a difficult job at Baltimore, which was saddled with a $19 million deficit. In the meantime, the Seattle Symphony keeps plugging ahead with Schwarz and is posting a record year according to this article in crosscut.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Conversation with Yaacov Bergman about the upcoming Portland Chamber Orchestra concert


This coming Saturday, the Portland Chamber Orchestra will play the music of William Walton, Leonard Bernstein, and Joseph Haydn in a program that combines playfulness and philosophy. The featured work is William Walton’s “Façade,” which uses the puppetry of the Tears of Joy Theatre, two actors, and a chamber ensemble to convey the whimsical poetry of Edith Sitwell. The program also includes Bernstein’s “Serenade” with the young and talented violinist Tai Murray as the soloist and Haydn’s Symphony No. 22 (aka “The Philosopher”).

This should be a very engaging program, so I talked with PCO's conductor and music director Yaacov Bergman about it.

Tell us more about Walton’s “Façade.”

Bergman: “It’s a wonderful piece in which Sitwell’s poetry is part of the musical text. In other words, the music rhythmically reflects Sitwell’s poetry. Walton started writing the music when he was just 21 years old. It’s a tricky piece – to articulate the poetry with the music.

The piece requires only 16 instrumentalists – a chamber orchestra kind of piece - and the poems are read while the music plays. Walton wrote the music with a jazzy approach. Sitwell herself was interested in jazz and worked with rhythm in her poetry.

We’ll be working with two actors, Mary McDonald Lewis and KBPS’s Edmund Stone, who will recite the poetry. They are terrific people

The titles of each poem seem to be whimsical.

Bergman: “Yes, they are quite meaningless. There is no story thread from point A to point B. It’s all very abstract. The main challenge is balance. We have to make sure that everyone can be heard correctly. We are using additional monitors in the audience area. Audience has to hear everything clearly.

And we are collaborating with the Tears of Joy Theatre for this piece. This is a new thing. We will build a little extension in front of the stage to bring the puppetry to the audience.

“Façade” is a fantastic work that provides for artistic expression of sophisticated ideas. It has many moods and is very abstract. We can use an imaginative approach that fits the mission of the Portland Chamber Orchestra. We are trying to bring the arts together with music. The future of classical music may have a departure a little bit from the traditional way of presenting classical music. Today there is so much new technology to present music and with which to compose music. It’s an exciting time.”

Tell us about Bernstein’s Serenade

Bergman: “Bernstein’s “Serenade” is a very difficult piece. It has five movements each with its own personality and based on Plato’s “Symposium.” The dialogues in “The Symposium” deal with the nature and meaning of love so the music explores those same themes.”

In some ways “Serenade” is like a tone poem. This piece is very tricky for the soloist and the orchestra, good rhythm and jazz, too.”

What about violin soloist Tai Murray?

Bergman: “Tai Murray is a brilliant young American violinist from Chicago. She has performed this piece with the Chicago Symphony in Atlanta. She has an artist diploma in music performance from Indiana University and is currently studying on scholarship at Juilliard in New York City.”

The concert concludes with Haydn’s “Philosopher.”


Bergman: “Haydn is always wonderful, and this is a delightful piece. Haydn’s works are more classical in structure. He gives us a sense of balance. The title links us back to Plato, and it was given to this piece because of the distinctive character of the first movement. You can see the philosopher in front of you.

The Portland Chamber Orchestra is cutting edge, futuristic. With every concert we are collaborating with other groups in town. It’s a vision that will help to keep classical music alive.

In May we will do Beethoven’s "Creatures of Prometheus" with an all new multimedia look so stay tuned!

Portland Chamber Orchestra plays the music of Walton, Bernstein, and Haydn in a program entitled “Rhymes and Rhythms,” which takes place this Saturday (January 19th) at 7:30 pm at Kaul Auditorium (located on the campus of Reed College).

For tickets call 503-771-3250 or buy online at www.portlandchamberorchestra.org. You can also purchase tickets at the door. If you have the promotion card, you can get $5 off the price of admission.

PS: Congratulations to Bergman for his work fine work with the Walla Walla Symphony. This was noted by Henry Fogel, President and CEO of the League of American Orchestras, in his blog "On the Record."

Charles Noble reflects in Oregon Symphony program notes

A month or so ago, an article in Crosscut about the Oregon Symphony's financial picture and how to "fix" it caused a lot of chatter on the internet. Charles Noble, assistant principal violist of the Oregon Symphony and blogger extrodinaire (NobleViola) wrote a piece about the subject, and it was printed on the back page of the latest Oregon Symphony program.

I thought that Noble had lots of great things to say, and he challenged the Oregon Symphony audience to enter into the discussion. Noble advocates "a wide-ranging discussion of possible solutions—with frank discussions of the problems included. I’d like to see a range of current and potential donors engage in a forum to talk about what their impressions of the symphony’s problems are, what they see as possible solutions and what they see already being done right."

A forum sounds like a good starting place, and I hope that it gets started soon.

Monday, January 14, 2008

From brutality to serenity and magic: Oregon Symphony with conductor Vajda and pianist Fliter traverse a wide soundscape

The Oregon Symphony opened its first concert of the new year with a bang, presenting a wide-ranging program of music by Bela Bartók, Claude Debussy, Frederic Chopin, and Paul Dukas. Resident Conductor Gregory Vajda directed the concert superbly, using a baton rather than his hands, which I had never seen him do before. Argentinean pianist Ingrid Fliter, the 2006 Gilmore Artist Award winner, was outstanding as the featured soloist.

The concert began with Bartók’s “The Miraculous Mandarin,” which marked this orchestra’s first-ever performance of this challenging piece. Supertitles gave the audience the gist of the story, which tells how three thugs use a girl to lure men in order to rob them. The final victim is Mandarin who is suffocated, stabbed, and hanged, but doesn’t die until the girl embraces him. In a way, this piece is Bartók’s meditation on love and death, except that the love part of the story gets shortchanged.

Vajda guided the orchestra expertly through the turbulent waters of this piece and its myriad of changes in meter. All of the nasty sounds and the thrashing about gave the impression that the instruments were playing against each other at least half the time, yet the brutality of the music matched the story perfectly. The snarling trombones, the furious strings, the wailing woodwinds, and the merciless percussion were impressive. The smeared piano roll captured the ghostly suspension of the Mandarin’s body from a light fixture. After the piece ended I wanted to knock back some absinth or take a plunge in a swimming pool, but alas I couldn’t find either in the lobby.

The orchestra and audience regrouped after intermission for Debussay’s “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun.” The languid and almost serene mood conveyed by the orchestra did a lot to help soothe the nerves after the Bartók. Principal flutist David Buck and principal oboist Martin Hebert played marvelously. The only time that the overall sonic impression seemed to flatten out and go nowhere occurred during an exposed section for the lower strings, and that may have been due to the acoustical shortcomings of the hall, which are well known.

Chopin’s second piano concerto brought in another breath of fresh air. Fliter appeared a bit fidgety during the long orchestral introduction, but once her fingers touched the keys, she showed all of the artistry of a truly great pianist. Her sound was well-balanced, her sense of pacing and contours within passages was amazing. Fliter created an assortment of moods that welcomed us to her view of Chopin’s music and kept us mesmerized until the very end.

The program ended with a Dukas’ “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.”. Vajda and the orchestra gave the piece a lot of dramatic flair, reveling in the wit of this whimsical nature of the music. I loved the pauses, which Vajda masterfully controlled and envied the bassoon section, which had a lot of fun in performing this piece.

Post Script: The hall was fairly full; so that continues an upward trend for the orchestra. A very good sign!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

A glimpse of Seattle Opera's "Pagliacci"

Seattle Opera has made a special video of their production of "Pagliacci" and given Northwest Reverb (and other media) permission to use it. So, here it is for your viewing pleasure:

video

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Preview and Review of Vancouver Symphony (WA) concert

The Vancouver Symphony (Washington) is offering an unusual program of jazz-inspired music and regular-flavored classical fare. The concert features a jazzy-baroque work by guest conductor and pianist Yaron Gottfried. I published a preview of this concert in The Columbian on Friday. Today I attended the afternoon concert, and the paper has already put my review on their web site. I hope that you enjoy reading both pieces and can attend the Sunday concert.

I'll be attending the Oregon Symphony concert (Gregory Vajda, conductor and Ingrid Fliter, pianist) on Sunday evening.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

P-town Pick-up Choir needs you!

A new underground/overground, intensive/subversive choir is being called into existence and resistance by Stephen Marc Beaudoin, singer, writer, man-about-town, and raconteur. If you have a pair of vocal chords and want to commit yourself to audacious sonic actions, then consider Beaudoin's Portland Pick-up Choir. Contact Beaudoin at pickupchoir@yahoo.com. For the entire scoop, read his posting at his web site, From Every Corner.

I hope to hear this choir soon!

Whereabouts of Kalmar and Schwarz

Both Carlos Kalmar and Gerard Schwarz are conducting in Europe right now. Kalmar is conducting the Residentie Orchestra of the Hague (tonight and tomorrow night) in a program that features Debussy's "Prélude to the Afternoon of a Faun," Brahms' Concerto for viola, cello and orchestra, and Shostakovitch's Symphony No. 5.

According to Melinda Bargreen of the Seattle Times, Schwarz is leading the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields in their current tour of Germany. Schwarz is filling for Neville Marriner in programs that include works by Beethoven, Dvorak, Mendelssohn and Mozart. Pianist Johnathan Biss is the featured soloist in these concerts. The Academy of St. Martin in the Fields web site gives the schedule but hasn't been updated to mention Schwarz.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Mahler's 6th - the correct order of movements?!

I found this article by Larry Lash in Musical America (December 28th - "RSO-Wien Settle the Score with Mahler 6"), but I think that it is only available to those who subscribe. Apparently, most of us have heard Mahler's 6th Symphony in the wrong order. Here's an extended excerpt from the article:

"VIENNA -- The program book for the Dec. 14 performance of Mahler’s Sixth Symphony by Radio-Symphonieorchester Wien (Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra) at Konzerthaus lists the movements as follows:

I. Allegro energico
II. Scherzo
III. Andante moderato
IV. Finale

An apologetic but urgent insert advised a program change based on new evidence: for almost a century, the movements have been played in the wrong order.

The most-quoted source of the mistake came from Mahler’s widow, Alma: “First Scherzo, then Andante” she instructed Wilhelm Mengelberg when he conducted the work in 1919.

Among personal recollections, Mahler’s own marked-up scores, Alma’s less-than-accurate testimony and printers’ errors, the correct order remained unresolved. The International Gustav Mahler Gesellschaft’s first edition of the Sixth, published in 1963, maintained the Scherzo-Andante order.

John Barbirolli long felt the Andante should come first; when he recorded the Sixth with the New Philharmonia Orchestra in 1968, EMI insisted on issuing the LP with the Scherzo first. Only with the 1996 CD reissue did the label acknowledge that Barbirolli had been correct, accordingly reordering the movements.

Also unresolved was the number of hammer blows in the Finale. Mahler composed three, but later felt their devastating impact too great, too close to tragic events in his life. I once saw his copy of the score, the third blow deleted with the bold stroke of a red marker. Fate would have its way despite the editing pencil: after receiving the blows of his dismissal from Wiener Staatsoper and the death of his daughter, Mahler’s recently-diagnosed heart condition lead to his death at the height of his powers at age 50. For decades, some conductors used three hammer blows, others two.

It’s enough of a mystery to fill a book – which it has, actually, published in 2004 by the Kaplan Foundation, edited by Mahler scholar Gilbert Kaplan and titled “The Correct Movement Order in Mahler’s Sixth Symphony.” A great deal of the material in its 72 pages also was provided by Reinhold Kubik, an IMGM vice-president and editor of the critical edition of Mahler’s complete works.

This performance was the first I’ve heard live in Andante-Scherzo order. The difference is astounding. Rather than proceed from the joyous, wild ride of the closing pages of the Allegro directly into the apocalyptic Scherzo, the insertion of the Andante gives the piece a more logical, theatrical flow. And two of those hammer blows – gut-wrenching no matter how prepared you think you may be for them – are quite enough to make the point."

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Profile of LeaAnne DenBeste


I published a profile of LeaAnne DenBeste, one of Portland's best sopranos and voice teachers, in the Hollywood Star newspaper. Although the Star is unavailable online, you can pick it up gratis at many locations in NE Portland. The Star publishes about 25,000 copies for each monthly issue, so it's considered one of the larger neighborhood newspapers.

DenBeste will be singing with Cappella Romana in its next concert on January 11th. The program consists of Finnish Orthodox music, most of which has probably been rarely performed outside of Finland. So, if you want to hear some really unusual vocal music, check out this concert.

The picture shows LeaAnne with Clare Marie.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Speculation about Schwarz and the Utah Symphony

If you visit the Classical in Seattle blog, you'll find out that Gerard Schwarz's name has been mentioned as a possible replacement for Keith Lockhart at the Utah Symphony. Lockhart's contract expires after the 2008-2009 season. Zach Carstensen (the blog author) refers to the original mention of this possibility in the Desert Morning News and to some musings by Seattle Weekly's Gavin Borchert

In the meantime, let's hope that Utah keeps their paws off of Carlos Kalmar.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Photo of Bob Priest at the piano between George Benjamin and Olivier Messiaen


A publicity shot from the Southbank Centre in London shows local composer Bob Priest sitting between composers Benjamin and Messiaen. Priest is the wild looking guy with the beard. He looks like a serious composer or a budding anarchist. To enlarge the picture, just click on it.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

For the birds!

Linda Magee, executive director of Chamber Music Northwest, and husband Craig Fisk have a Quaker parrot named Sparky who has made a name for himself on YouTube. You can watch Sparky construct his very large next in the Magee-Fisk dining room. I think that there's a bookcase behind the nest.